Children must be taught about their rights

October 1st, 2018
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By Kgomotso Ramotsho

Researcher and Ambassador of the Teddy Bear Clinic, Doctor Tanya Robinson, spoke about crimes against children at the South African Association of Mediators conference held on 1 and 2 August in Johannesburg.

The South African Association of Mediators (SAAM) held a conference on mediation on 1 and 2 August in Johannesburg. Researcher and Ambassador of the Teddy Bear Clinic, Doctor Tanya Robinson, said violent crimes are a serious problem for the South African society. She added that the media often reports on crimes against children and in many interviews people express their worry about children and crimes done to them. She pointed out that children were brutally hurt through practices that adults inflict on them.

Dr Robinson said it was the responsibility of professionals in industries, such as the mediation industry, to hold dialogues with other adults in a multi-disciplinary context to discuss how children’s vulnerabilities were being exploited. She added that another problem was that children did not know their rights or the Children’s Act 38 of 2005. She pointed out that in most of the schools she goes to give talks, the first thing she does is ask children if they know they have rights. The responses she receives are that they did not know their rights or even know about the Children’s Act.

Dr Robinson said if children do not know about the Children’s Act, how would they know about their rights? She pointed out that children need to be taught about the Children’s Act and about their rights, so that they know how to protect themselves. She added that the reporting of maltreatment and abuse of children was underestimated and that some of the perpetrators who commit crimes against children are people that the children depend on, such as a parent, and if they report the crime, the parent or adult will stop taking care of them.

Dr Robinson said that there must be a shift in the way of reporting maltreatment of children but it must be done, in such a way that children know it is okay to report maltreatment and abuse. She added that children are confronted with violent crimes, which include –

  • conventional crime, such as robbery, kidnapping, hate crime, or threats of attack;
  • sexual victimisation or abuse, such as rape or, pornography;
  • child maltreatment, such as physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect or abduction by parents and care givers; and
  • digital victimisation such as, bullying on social networks.

Dr Robinson added that the justice system has failed many people when they have reported cases of sexual abuse. She said it was not easy for children to report sexual abuse, because often those cases do not get prosecuted, due to faulty information on the case and then the case is thrown out of court. She pointed out that it is very important that when mediator’s cross paths with sexual abuse cases, that they are experts in that area. She encouraged mediators who deal with such cases, to familiarise themselves in that field and get training.

Dr Robinson said it is important for mediators who deal with such cases to follow correct protocol and correct court process and added that mediators needed to understand how to handle the situation, that in the end the children get the justice they deserve.

Allegations of abuse during divorce

Family and Divorce Mediator, Nicola Arend, discussed allegations of abuse during divorce proceedings at the conference.

Family and divorce mediator, Nicola Arend, discussed allegations of abuse during divorce proceedings. She said that according to statistics released in 2016 by Statistics South Africa, there were 25 326 divorces in South Africa (SA) and 13 922 of those cases involved children under the age of 18. She added another study, the ‘Optimus Study South Africa: Technical report,’ in which 10 000 teenagers took part from schools and communities, where it was revealed that one in three children had been sexually abused by the age of 17, this included children who had been exposed to child pornography or had been used in child pornography – without their knowledge – in terms of sending their naked photo to someone.

Ms Arend pointed out that as many boys were sexually abused as girls. She said in early 2000 it was not considered that there were as many boys who were being sexually abused. She added that in a research study, in which she was involved in, there was a campaign where children were encouraged to confide in a trusted adult and it was in that study that it was revealed that as many boys were also sexually abused. She pointed out that a statistic by the South African Police Service (SAPS) showed that between 14 000 and 18 000 sexual abuse cases are opened per year. She said SA had a high level of abuse.

Ms Arend said the reason why abuse was revealed pre-divorce was that, it is often the most ‘appropriate’ time. She added that it was not predominately women who were allegedly accused, but rather men. She used a woman as an example and said that the mother may have turned a blind eye during the marriage to any kind of abuse that was happening. She said it may have been due to fear, disbelief, or due to the weighing up of an option of a roof over her head or her child’s innocence. She pointed out that, unfortunately most mothers choose a roof over their head.

Mr Arend added that abuse may also be revealed during the divorce, because the child might feel free from being out of the same house as the alleged abuser and that they may be able to now disclose the information to a trusted adult, such as other family members, relatives, a teacher or a social worker. She said that sometimes the report of abuse post-divorce, could elicit false allegations and the reason for that may be that one parent would not want the child to see or visit the other parent.

Ms Arend said the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, clearly states that children need to be protected from maltreatment, abuse and neglect. She added that the Children’s Act, stated that crimes against children can be reported to child protection organisations, the Department of Social Development or the SAPS. She pointed out that the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 states that children being sexually abused must be reported to the police, and not only to the child protection organisations and that all citizens should report allegations of sexual abuse.

Ms Arend said when there is a suspicion of abuse mediators should successfully identify the abused child and exclude the child that was not abused if there is more than one child in the household. She noted that when there are only two witnesses on the abuse matter, namely the child and the perpetrator and there is no corroborating evidence, then the child’s recollection of events would be relied on. Ms Arend said in such cases the mediator’s task is a critical one.

Magistrate Marelene Lamprecht, said mediation plays an important role for troubled families during divorce proceedings.

Ms Arend added it was important for mediators that the correct protocols of gathering facts in all-purposes are used to ensure the correct information is received. She said that when gathering information – for court purposes – talking to children about any crime or sexual abuse should not just be about taking in their words, but mediators should rather do intensive research to put into the report. She added that mediators – when dealing with abuse cases – should consider the timing and circumstances, how the children disclose the information and consider the existence of the motive to fabricate false allegations.

Ms Arend said when dealing with abuse cases mediators should look at the language used by the children to determine whether they were programmed to give information and added that mediators should look at the quantity and quality of the information the children give, the consistency when they continue to speak about the abuse, the description of the perpetrator’s behaviour and the emotional reaction of the children during the interview. She added that false allegations and fabricated allegations can be broken up as unsubstantiated allegations. She pointed out that unsubstantiated allegations of the alleged abuse, which is reported can be legally defined as abuse. She warned against children being questioned by either a parent or teacher with leading questions as this may lead to other unsubstantiated false allegations.

Ms Arend pointed out that fabricated false allegations can have implications such as –

  • distress for the children;
  • the accused parent may not see their child/children for years; and
  • the accused parent may have supervised access to the child/children or no access at all.

Practical information on how to use the Children’s Act in mediation

Family Life Centre facilitator, Claire Penfold, said the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Child in art 3, speaks about the best interest of the child and added that art 12, includes the child’s participation. It also provides for the children’s right to be heard. She pointed out that SA’s Constitution has a provision stipulating what children have a right to, which includes family or parental care. She said people will talk about the Child Care Act 74 of 1984 as opposed to the Children’s Act. She said one must be clear when referring to the legislation, on which one they are referring to.

Ms Penfold pointed out that if a mediator referred to the wrong legislation, the legal profession will not be pleased when they receive the memorandum, or if it goes to court, the case might get thrown out. She added that the Child Care Act was repealed by the Children’s Act. She said it was important for mediators to clearly understand the objectives of the Children’s Act. She said the Children’s Act promotes the preservation of families, to give effect to the constitutional right of children, to give effect to South Africa’s obligation in terms of the international instruments.

South African Council of Churches’, Reverend Gift Moerane, said SA is a fractured society and families were characterised by conflicts.

Ms Penfold said ch 2 deals with general principles, ch 3 deals with parental responsibilities and ch 4 deals with children’s courts. She further discussed chapters that mediators can refer to when dealing with cases involving children and explained in summary what they talked to.

 

Magistrate Marlene Lamprecht, told mediators not to be intimidated by the logistics, legislation and many other things they come across. She said the format and forms are not complicated and added that a parenting plan can be amended if there is something in the plan that does not work for the parties involved. She pointed out that when some parties go to court they would not even look at each other and their body language would show that the parties have not been communicating for several years. She said in a situation like that, parties would be sent to a family advocate for mediation and added that in most cases when they returned, she would not recognise some of the parties, because they returned happier and, in some instances, the parties decide to fix their marriages. She said sending parties to mediators who are going to help them and parties agreeing to simple things is very important.

South African Council of Churches’, Reverend Gift Moerane, said SA is a fractured society and families were characterised by conflicts. He added that society was ‘groaning in pain for help’. He noted the good work SAAM did, but challenged the organisation to interact more with families and communities at grass-roots level to respond to challenges that could lead to conflict and domestic violence.

Rev Moerane, said SAAM should always be ready to intervene when problems arise. He added that for those mediators who need to be paid before they could assist a poor woman, he asked them what their social responsibility was? He added that SAAM should respond to conflict in a form of social responsibilities in communities and suggested that SAAM, as part of the organisation’s social responsibility, provide skill training in communities for the community leaders in conflict resolution. He pointed out that by doing this SAAM will be branding itself in communities and people will know that SAAM provides good services. He added that SAAM could also raise money and inject it into the pro bono services to offer to poor communities.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2018 (Oct) DR 14.

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